With the Spanish dominion, a radical change was made from the French
to the Spanish system. The Superior Council was abolished and the
Cabildo was established. In the redistribution of the powers of
administering the laws a much larger share of the power passed into the
hands of the military and ecclesiastical representatives of the crown
and church — as is always the case in Spanish countries— while the
Cabildo, which may be regarded as representing the civil power, was
given far fewer privileges than its predecessor, the Superior Council,
The Cabildo consisted of ten members, in addition to the governor and a secretary, called the escribando. The governor was, ex-officio, president, presiding at all meetings. There were two classes of membership in the Cabildo. One class, consisting of six members, acquired their seats by purchase and held office for life; the other class, consisting of four, were elected annually on the first of each year, the retiring members participating in this ballot. They were required to be residents of New Orleans and householders. They could not be re-elected to the Cabildo until they had been out of office two years, except by a unanimous vote. All the financial officers of the colony, as well as their bondsmen, were prohibited from election to the Cabildo, as well as those under 26 years of age or who had only recently became converted to the Catholic faith.
From the Cabildo, two members were elected alcaldes ordinaries, or judges, who probably were the most important officers. The alcaldes held court — each a separate court — daily in the town hall, having jurisdiction over all cases, civil and criminal, where the amount in dispute did not exceed $20, thus corresponding to the recorders and justices of the peace of a later day. The alcaldes ordinaries also held evening court at their residences, at which only oral decisions were rendered. Their judgments were subject to appeal in all civil cases. They had no jurisdiction over anyone connected with the military or ecclesiastical branches of the government, all such matters being given to the ecclesiastical and military tribunals.
Another of the four elective members of the Cabildo were called the sindico-procurador general, or attorney general syndic, who acted as the official representative of the people in the deliberations of the Cabildo. He was the prose-cuting officer against the town; he sued for revenues and other debts due the city; and he was present at all apportionments of lands.
The fourth elective officer was the mayor domo proprios, or municipal treasurer, who paid out money on the warrants of the Cabildo and who gave at the end of the year, when his term of office expired, a full account of the revenues and expenses of the city.
The rest of the memberships in the Cabildo were obtained by purchase, and it is probably the only instance in the history of American cities where the offices were put up for sale — at least openly, although stories have been frequently told of their purchase at private sale by prominent politicians. The seats in the Cabildo were sold by auction to the highest bidder. When a citizen who had purchased a seat in the Cabildo died, his heirs were allowed to use it, provided half the price of the transfer and one-third of the price of subsequent sales were turned into the royal treasury.
In these six seats sat the six regidors or administrators, the first of whom held the honorary office of Alferez real, or royal standard-bearer. The Alferez real was without official function, except in the case of the death or absence of one of the Alcades, when he filled the vacancy. He also enjoyed the great privilege of carrying the royal standard in parades.
The second regidor was Alcalde mayor provincial, or extra muros, a magistrate who had jurisdiction over offenses and misdemeanors committed outside the limits of the city, and with power and authority to overtake and capture those seeking to escape to the rural districts — such, for instance, as runaway slaves or fugitives from justice.
The third regidor was Alcuazil mayor, and acted as sheriff, superintendent of police and prisons; but the police did not exist until the last days of Spanish rule.
Two other regidors were deposidores general, or keeper and dispenser of government stores; and recebidor de penas de camarara — receiver of fines and penalties. The sixth regidor had no special duty or assignment.
The Cabildo met every Friday in the town hall, or Jackson Square, which, from the body sitting there then, has earned for itself the title of Cabildo to this day. It sat both as a council and as a court — in the latter case as a court of appeal from the decisions of the alcaldes ordinaries, through two of the regidors chosen by it, with the Alcaldes who had rendered the judgment appealed from, but only when the judgment was for less than $350. Cases involving larger sums were assigned specially by the king to such tribunal as he selected. The Cabildo had the right to fix the price of provisions, to sell the privilege of providing the city with meat, and many other petty privileges permitted municipalities under the Spanish rule.
Appeals from the decisions of the Cabildo were carried to a special court in Cuba, or even to Madrid itself, if the matter was one of importance.
All matters affecting the soldiers and ecclesiastics were carried before a military or ecclesiastical tribunal, and judged by the fueros militares or fueros eclesiasticos. In civil matters the ordinary laws of Spain were in force — the reeopilaciones of Castile, the fuero viejo, fuero jurico, partidas and accordados.
The governor exercised a certain control and power over the Cabildo very similar to the power exercised by the mayor of the city in later days; and no appropriation could be made by this municipal council, save for the most trifling and necessary expenses, without a permit from him.
The underlying design of the Spanish government in establishing the Cabildo was to so scatter the power in the hands of the royal and government officials as to neutralize its possibility for harm. After the experience of Spain with the old Superior Council, which had rejected the government of the Spanish, that power was determined that it would never again have that trouble to face; and it therefor created a council which had its hands tied and could do little or nothing.
The first Cabildo of New Orleans met December 1st, 1769, Governor O'Reilly acting as President. It included Francisco Maria Reggio, Pedro Francisco Olivier de Vezin, Carlos Juan Bautista Fleurian, Antonio Bienvenu, Jose Ducros and Dyosio Brand. Juan Bautista Garic, who had been secretary of the old Superior Council, bought the office of secretary of the Cabildo.
Reggio was Alferez real, or royal standard-bearer; Fleurian, Alcuazil mayor, or sheriff; Ducros was receiver of supplies; Bienvenu, receiver of fines and penalties; and de Yezin, principal Alcalde provincial, or extra muros.
It is not stated how much the purchasers of the office of regidor paid for the honor; but some years afterwards, when Bienvenu, who was one of the regidors, died, the position was bought from his heirs by Fagot de la Garinere for $1,400, money being then worth about five times its present value.
Besides the offices already mentioned, the government included a treasurer, a contador or comptroller, a storekeeper and purveyor, a surveyor-general, three notaries and a cashier.
The Cabildo met January 1, 1770, and elected as Alcaldes ordinarios the principal officers in the city, de la Chaise and St. Denys. They were succeeded as follows:
1771 — Chabert and Forstall
1772 — Amelot and Chevalier de Villiers
1773 — Duplessis and Doriocourt
1774 — Forstall and Chabert
1775 — Dufossat and Duplessis
1776 — D'Ernonville and Livandais
1777 — Forstall and Chevalier de Villiers
1778 — Navarro and Dufossat
1780 — Piernas and Duverger
1783 — Le Breton and Morales
1785 — Forstall and Kernion
1786 — Orne and Dufossat
1787 — Cliabert and Reggio
1788 — Foucher and Argotte
1790 — Ortega and Almonaster
1791 — Marigny de Mandeville and de la Pena
1794 — Serano and Daunoy
1795 — Loris and Pontalba
1796 — Perez and de la Chaise
1798 — Serano and Argotte
1800— Perez and Poyfarre
1802 — Forstall and Cassergues
1803 — Forstall and Lanusse
The clerks of the council were Garic, Rodriguez and Mazange.
In 1790 the number of regidors were increased by six, on the ground of the large increase in population of the city.
In organizing the Cabildo, Governor O'Reilly prepared the schedules of rules and regulations fixing the powers of the several officers. These rules and regidations were, to all intents and purposes, the charter of the city. They are very full and complete, covering even the minutest details.
Few changes occurred in the government of the city during the Spanish rule. This, as usual with Spain, was of a most conservative character.
It will be noticed from the names of the members of the Cabildo that the Spaniards were glad to have the French Creoles take part in the city government of New Orleans. The provincial government, which was more important and had greater power, was, however, restricted to Spaniards alone. In the last decade of Spanish rule the two Alcaldes ordinaries were usually divided between the French and Spanish population.
On taking possession of the government in 1786, Miro issued his baiido de buen gobierno. This is the proclamation which the governor of a Spanish colony generally issues when taking possession, making known the principles under which he proposes to operate and the public ordinances he proposes to enforce. These ordinances, in brief, were as follows: No labor of any kind on Sunday or other public holidays; all stores and shops to be closed during the hours of divine service; no dance of slaves in the public squares during church time; a warning to "women of the town" not to pay "excessive attention to dress;" women of color (mulattoes) forbidden to wear jewelry or plumes, and required to wear handkerchiefs or turbans (tignons) around their head so as to distinguish them from the whites; gambling and duelling prohibited; rigorous prohibition of the carrying of dirks, pistols and other weapons (up to that time the better class of the population had been accustomed to wearing their swords, as in France); no meetings of negroes allowed at night; no person allowed to leave or enter the city without passports; those leaving the colony required to give security for the payment of their debts; all persons reaching New Orleans required to present themselves at once at the government house and obtain a permit to remain in the city; all public meetings prohibited without a permit from the governor; all walking out at night prohibited, except in cases of necessity, and not even then unless the walker carried a lantern (it was not until some years later that the city provided street lamps); no houses or apartments to be leased to a slave; saloonkeepers required to close their saloons at regular hours, and prohibited from selling wine to soldiers, negroes or Indians; purchases from soldiers, Indians, convicts or slaves prohibited; hogs prohibited from running at large in the streets of the city, and the number of dogs to be kept by a citizen was limited. Measures were also taken to guard against conflagrations, for draining the streets and keeping the public landing on the levee unobstructed.
These ordinances, which it will be seen, are those of a very primitive company, about illustrate the municipal and police government of New Orleans during Spanish rule, when the governor did not hesitate to interfere in the most private concerns, even as in Italy during the Middle Ages, in the dress of the people, particularly that of the women.
The hando de buen gobierno issued by Governor Carondelet in 1792 was very similar to that of Miro. He, however, took the slaves more into consideration and issued a number of provisions in their favor, fixing the amount of food they were to be furnished with and the clothing to receive. He forbid their being given more than twenty-five lashes at one time, and provided that their Sundays belonged to them when they could not be compelled to work for their masters except in urgent cases, and must then receive pay for their services. It was the most liberal treatment they had ever received — far more liberal than they received afterwards.
The most important changes were made under the administration of Governor Carondelet in 1792, when the presence of the Americans in the colony began to be felt. He divided the town into four wards, placing an Alcalde de Barrios with a commissary of police over each ward, with official control of fire engines, firemen and axmen. He appointed policemen, provided first for the lighting of the streets with lamps. In 1796 there were thirteen serenos, or night watchmen, in the city, and eighty street lamps. The expense of these improvements was borne by a chimney tax of nine reales ($1.12) on every chimney. This tax being found insufficient, another levy was substituted for it - a tax on wheat bread and meat.
The many important public improvements made in the city under Carondelet were made on an entirely different basis from those instituted by the early French and Spanish governors. The latter had compelled the inhabitants to furnish them negro slaves for the purposes of work. Carondelet tried a different plan of taxing them. In the matter of the fortifications erected around the city, which were then considered necessary, for the situation was growing rather threatening in the Southwest, he regarded the expense as belonging properly to Spain, and the people of New Orleans were required to contribute nothing, but merely to keep up the fortifications. The expenses of light, police, etc., etc., were borne by the inhabitants, being raised by a tax on chimneys and food.
The resources of the city at the time, that is, for the last year of Spanish rule, 1802, were as follows: ($)
Hire of stalls in the meat market, 2,350
Tax on beef, seven-eighths of a dollar, 3,325
Tax on veal, mutton or pork, on each carcass, 1,200
Hire of stalls in the vegetable and fish market, 1,383
Tax on bread, half a dollar a barrel on flour baked in the city, 2,800
on barrooms, 20
on lodging houses, 40
on billiard tables, 3,500
Port charges, $3 on all ships at anchorage except
American shipping, 500
Tax on Tafia (rum), 2
per pipe, 800
Ground rent on great square, 132
Rent of the old market house, then used as a ball room and gaming house, 1,800
Ground rents on the square opposite the hospital, 693
Moveable shops and stalls (peddlers), 360
Tax on vessels entering Bayou St. Jean, 1
a vessel 470
Total revenue $19,278
This table gives the basis upon which the city revenue was raised for many years afterwards. As in France and Spain, the principal dependence was on the tax on food and the revenues from markets and licenses. These indeed produced three-fourths of the total revenue. The direct tax on real estate and personal property, capital, houses and furniture was altogether ignored.
The expenditures are equally interesting, although not given in the accounts of the time as completely and fully.
They were: ($)
Commission of five per cent, to treasurers for all sums received by them
Salaries of regidors, about $5 a month, 350
Salary of clerk of council, 200
Salary of porters (who collected the licenses), 420
Salary of sergeant (head of the street repairing department), 144
Salary of corporal (who superintended street cleaning), 144
City crier, 144
City executioner, 180
Lighting the city, including, 14 watchmen (serenos), who were also lamp-lighters, 2,980
No itemized account was kept of the other expenses, such as cleaning and repairing the streets, etc.
It was recognized that the bakers swindled the municipality in this matter, and did not pay their full dues.
This money was received to keep the wharves in order.
The Cabildo and the Spanish system remained in force until the cession of Louisiana to France. When Laussat, the French Intendant of Louisiana, took possession of the colony in 1803, he abolished the Cabildo, or old Spanish council, and established in its place a regular municipal government. Etienne de Bore, the first of the Louisiana sugar-planters, was chosen as mayor, and the council was composed of Villere, Fortier, Jones, Donalson, Faurie Allard, Trideaux and Watkins — five Creoles and three Americans. The secretary of the council was Derbigny, and the treasurer, Labatut. This government was intended merely as a stop-gap until a charter could be obtained for the city from the Territorial legislature; but it continued in office more than two years. De Bore, however, resigned and Pierre Petit succeeded him as mayor pro-tem.
— STANDARD HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
— MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT, By Norman Walker
MUNICIPAL AND MILITARY HISTORY
EDITED BY HENRY RIGHTOR
THE LEWIS PUBLISHING COMPANY CHICAGO, 1900
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